Friday, February 29, 2008

Shifting Love by Constance O'Day-Flannery

Magdalene O'Shea has a secret. From the time when she was very young, she could shift into any animal form that she desired. Her mother, who already resented Magdalene for ruining her life just by being concieved, refused to believe that Magdalene was telling the truth when the young girl told her what she could do. She told Magdalene that if she persisted in such lies, she was surely bound to hell, to a fiery end.

Magdalene used her powers to get close to boys that she liked, until she was 20, when a man that she liked told her he was in love with her, and would kill himself if she left him. Maggie didn't believe him and he promptly threw himself off a cliff. Maggie was horrified, and ran as fast and far as she could, but was discovered by a man and shapeshifter named Marcus Bocelli, who, after hearing her story about the man who had thrown himself from the cliff, told her she must atone for her crime. He will teach her how to use her powers, and she must use them in the service of good, and light, and love.

Fourteen years later, Maggie is tired of her job. She wonders for how much longer she will have to continue to atone for her crime. Every time she thinks she is done and can settle down to a normal life, Marcus will appear with a new job that he insists it is extremely important she take on. Since her job consists of teaching damaged men to open their hearts and love again, she must sincerely love the men she takes on. Now, each job is becoming no more than a job, and it feels wrong to approach it that way.

Marcus appears back in her life, and gives her a job he says will be the most important of her life. Julian McDonald is a wealthy entepreneur whose life was darkened when his wife and young son went down in an airplane wreck. He threw himself into his work, but he could be so much more, and he is being groomed to be such. However, he must be able to love in his new position, and since Magdalene is their best operative, Marcus has decided to give her the job. Magdalene sees that she could easily step over the line and fall in love with Julian in the wrong way and want him for herself. Nonetheless, she agrees to take him on.

Magdalene meets Julian at a charity auction, and piques his interest by challenging his bid on a watercolor painting painted by a local student. At the auction she also meets D., a local television journalist and shockingly direct woman. D and Maggie become quick friends, especially when they escort each other to dinner and manage to once again intrigue Julian, but also confuse him.

When Maggie hasn't heard from Julian within a week after the auction, she breaks into his house as a falcon and plants her business card in a place where he can't fail to see it. Unfortunately, she hasn't counted on his dog being there, and must abandon the body of the falcon, which she possessed, and instead takes over Julian's dog, Maxamillion. From this, she learns Max has really bad hip joints, but is able to lead him to her card.

A few days later, Julian meets her for dinner at her shop, Soul Provisions, which sells books, jewelry, CDs and candles, along with other things for people to pamper themselves with. He's made reservations at a Chic restaurant, but instead she takes him to her house and forces him to relax by making him take off the armor of his suit. He eats the dinner she prepared, and has a wonderful time. The next weekend, he "kidnaps" her and takes her to his house in Bermuda for dinner, but they end up staying the night.

While she is there, Maggie attempts to swim in the ocean in dolphin form, but becomes entangled in some fishing nets, and is rescued by a barracuda, who also happens to be the housekeeper... and a shapeshifter as well. She tells Maggie that Maggie has a choice. If she wants to stop doing work for the organization and retire, it is up to her. She also tells Maggie something about the organization she works for. It's not much, but it's more than Marius has ever told her.

When she returns to Philadelphia, Marius returns to see her. He's perturbed that, while the housekeeper gave a good report on Maggie, Marius was reprimanded for not giving her an adequate background on the organization. Maggie is so fed up with him by this point that she really can't care. In fact, she takes pleasure in the fact that it was Marius who got reprimanded, not her. She also tells him this will be her last job. She wants to be free and have a normal life, with a husband and children. Marius enjoys the chase and capturing different women, she doesn't really enjoy her job. Soon after, Maggie and Julian become lovers.

After a few more weekends together, Maggie pushes Julian to talk about his family, even though he doesn't really want to. After pointing out a few home truths about Julian's family life, Julian blows up, runs out, and decides not to return to her. But later on, he talks to his older female assistant, who gives him another few home truths about his own behavior. He rewards her by letting her husband surprise her with a trip to his home in the Bahamas over the coming weekend. Then he returns to Maggie and they talk out his problems with relationships. When he asks her to marry him, Maggie reveals that he has been her project and that she cannot marry him. She tells him that great things are awaiting him, and that he will soon meet another woman whom he will fall in love with and marry.

Julian is approached by a senator and is invited to become the Senator's protegé, taking over for him in politics. He is introduced to a young woman named Victoria, who would be the perfect wife for his political career, but he tells the senator that his heart is already engaged, and when the Senator asks the woman's name, he tells him, "Maggie". He turns down the senator's offer, and finds that Victoria and Maggie say many of the same things. Victoria learned hers from a man she was recently involved with...

After breaking up with Julian, Maggie becomes very sick, and eventually, realizes she is pregnant. When Julian returns and tries to minster to her, she drives him away by showing him her powers. He leaves, thinking that she is some sort of monster. Eventually, Julian decides to take the senator up on his offer and goes to see him at his estate. The Senator has also invited Maggie to join him, and reveals to her that he is her father. At first, she is upset with him, but when she sees Julian on the estate, she realizes she still loves him, and Julian realizes this as well when he gets jealous of Marius. When the senator is shot by a sniper, she and Marius take care of the assassin, while Julian phones for help. But will the organization allow Maggie to take Victoria's place and marry Julian?

This book was an extremely good read. Both characters are intelligent, passionate and capable of surprising each other as well as the readers. Maggie's plight, her frustration with having to live a life where she must atone for a thoughtless act over and over, really came through. Marius, who had been her mentor and lover, came off as very manipulative, as seen through Maggie's eyes. Since he's Italian, he tries using his charm to manipulate her, but by the time of the beginning of the book, it's obvious she won't be falling for it any longer.

I really enjoyed the ending of the series, and the sequel will apparently focus on Marius and Maggie's friend, D. Since Marius is portrayed as someone who is rather manipulative and enjoys chasing women, I'm not sure he is exactly the kind of man who is a romance hero. But we'll see.

I also read Death Note #13: How to Read, which gives timelines for the series, and gives notes that makes the storyline and high-level plotting more accessible to readers. The book also answers reader questions, has interviews with the writer, Tsugumi Ohba, and the artist, Takeshi Obata, separately, and then one together. It's packed with information and stuff on all the important character, and includes a section in the back with traditional Japanese four-panel comics featuring the characters from Death Note, and the original story that the series grew out of, as well as a hilarious look at the Shinigami Ryuk's take on the series.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Black Dragon by Allyson James

Saba Watanabe is a half-Japanese witch who was formerly enslaved by the black Dragon Malcolm, who had been trapped in the human world for 600 years. When, eight months back, Malcolm was freed to return to Dragonspace by the Silver Dragon Lisa Singleton, now married to the Gold Dragon Caleb, he freed Saba and left her behind a set of jewels he called Dragon Tears, which could summon him back to her side should she need him

Saba was glad to finally be free of him, and studied how to resist being marked by a dragon so that she could never be enslaved again. Even though she was glad to be free of Malcolm, she cannot stop thinking of him. Even now, she carries his dragon tears around in her pocket. But when she is assaulted by a white dragon, the fiercest, most evil of all dragon species, on the train on the way home at night, she resists the dragon trying to mark her with his mark, and when he turns to simple physical assault, she clutches the dragon tears and calls out for Malcolm. Malcolm returns and thrashes the white dragon, but he is concerned for Saba. Why should a white dragon, the most cruel, vicious and heartless of their kind, want Saba? Malcolm turns his logical mind to the task, and turns back to his minions, as well as seeking out new allies like Alex, an imp who strangely enough, isn't evil.

Malcolm tries to track down the witch who might have summoned the White Dragon to this world, only to find that she has already been disposed of by the dragon or one of his minions. Saba helps another witch, Annie, find a friend of hers from the local coven, but the witch is the same one who may have summoned the white dragon, and is sent into shock at the sight of her friend dead.

The white dragon, while not appearing in person, does manage to threaten Saba's life in other ways, including sending her a threatening E-mail. While Saba is strong, she was more than a little miffed that Malcolm, who used her as his sex slave, appeared to have totally forgotten about her after he left. As she and Malcolm spend more time around each other, she realizes that she has fallen in love with him, but she doesn't want to admit it, realizing that she would be devastated if he went away again.

Gradually, it becomes clear that the white dragon, who calls himself Roland, is not actually after Saba except as a means to an end. He wants the vast archive of the black dragons that Malcolm has been put in charge of. To do so, he has stolen a book called the Book of Dragons, which holds the image and true name of every dragon in existence. After wiping his own name from the book, he uses Malcolm's true name to kidnap him and take control of him. Malcolm is rescued by Saba and takes her back to Dragonspace with him, to the archive. But the archive is having problems of its own.

You see, the books stored there attract darkness. Normally, the books imbued with light and life energy keep the darkness contained and small. But with the Book of Dragons stolen, the darkness is rapidly taking over the archive, covering everything in a dark shroud. Not only has it doused the lights of the archive, but it has corrupted the "card catalog" that is used to reference the books. Malcolm must call on Saba, who is a computer programmer in the human world, Lisa and Alex, who is a manifestation of Baku, the god of dreams, to defeat the darkness and restore function to the archive. Not to mention deal with another attack by Roland, whose ultimate aim is to use the stored knowledge of the archive to take over Dragonspace. But can the four of them throw back the darkness and defeat it? Or will they fall prey to the darkness, to Roland, or both?

The Black Dragon was an excellent book belied by its cover art. The man depicted on the cover of the book didn't resemble my mental image of Malcolm at all, being entirely too pale, and much, much too fey. To put it mildly, the cover guy looks like he plays for the other team. I nearly put it back on the shelf because of that, and now I am glad I didn't, because I would have missed an interesting, engaging, and humorous story. This book is a sequel to a book called "Dragon Heat", and now I will be going to track down that book, even though Malcolm originally appears as a villain in the book (He's not a villain, but he does have a unique way of looking at the world, even for one of his kind).

The story of how Malcolm comes to realize the witch he left behind is Saba, his witch and holder of his heart, is a heart-warming one. Malcolm, while not tongue-tied, is not a man who can easily sound or even be romantic, but he never lies to Saba and is always willing to discuss things logically. Even though he is driven to mate because he has passed the halfway point in his own long life, he could have any female dragon, but he wants Saba. This book is a wonderful read, and should appeal to men as well as women with its many action scenes.

Elsewhere by Will Shetterly

Ron is a teenager who comes to Bordertown, ostensibly to look for his older brother, Tony. Bordertown is a city on the edge of the human lands and Faerie, and was largely abandoned. But the number of teenage runaways that come to the town means that what was once abandoned is now occupied by squatters, clubs and borderline businesses.

Ron has sneaked onto the train to Bordertown, but is thrown off (actually, jumps) when the conductor realizes that he doesn't have a ticket. He's picked up by Mooner, a half-elf biker who takes Ron back to his home, Castle Pup, a large collection of elves, humans and "halfies", who get along and live with each other. This is not true in most places in Bordertown, where elves and humans look down on and actively persecute one another, and "halfies" are barely tolerated by both sides.

Castle Pup is run by Leda, an elf, but Mooner wants to change it, turning it from a place to crash and live into a club, which would allow them to make money, and also to take in and look after more kids, but mainly he wants to make money and stake out Castle Pup's place before what he sees as the inevitable tide of gentrification sets in.

Ron settles in to Castle Pup, rooming with a kid nicknamed "King of Beer". He also makes friends with a small dumb girl named Florida, who lives in the back garden. Something traumatic happened to Florida many years ago. She was found, bloody and almost catatonic, on the front steps of Castle Pup, and since then, she has remained outside. But after Ron reads to her from Treasure Island, she takes a liking to him and follows him inside to get some dinner, a first, for her.

Ron gets a job at a bookstore called Elsewhere. Mooner, who Ron is now friends with, doesn't like the owner, Goldie, but he won't say why. He asks Ron to steal a book from her store, and when Ron, unable to comply, gives Mooner his own copy of Yeats under the guise of having stolen it from Goldie, Mooner sets the book on fire, taking pleasure in destroying something that was once hers. Later, Mooner asks Ron to find out the security code for the protection spell that shields the store when it isn't open, claiming that Goldie stole something of his and he wants it back. Ron, miserable at the idea, promises only under the condition that if he does find out, Mooner will only steal it back, and nothing else. Mooner agrees.

Castle Pup votes on Mooner's idea, and it is defeated. Mooner is extremely upset, but Ron soothes him by letting Mooner know that he found out the password. That night, Mooner and Ron sneak into Elsewhere, where Mooner reveals it is his heart that Goldie stole, and he attempts to burn down the store in retaliation. Ron tries to stop him, and then realizes that Mooner has done the same with Castle Pup. Ron abandons the store to go back and help out at Castle Pup, and Mooner comes with him. Mooner, realizing what he has done, vanishes inside the Castle, and is later found burnt to death. Ron tries to save everyone he can, and, heartbroken at what he has precipitated, drinks mad river water and becomes a River-drinker junkie for well over a year, abandoning everyone and everything.

During his time as a River Water junkie, Ron encounters another inhabitant of Castle Pup, who fills him in on what happened. Many of the kids were taken to the hospital with smoke inhalation, Mooner is dead. Florida was taken in by Goldie, Leda returned to Faerie. Many of those left believe he set the fire, but Sparks knows he didn't. She offers Ron space, but Ron would rather return to his addiction and forget. The next time he encounters someone from Castle Pup, it is Leda, who has fallen in with a set of Young Blood Elves who ride around town on expensive human motorcycles but generally look down on humans. Ron curses and screams at her, and in retaliation, she turns him into a Dog-boy.

Hurting and afraid, Ron runs all over town, trying to hook up with some of his old friends from Castle Pup, but they chase him off as a monster. It's not until he returns to Elsewhere that he meets Florida again, who recognizes him even in his new guise, and speaks again to say his name. Then, Goldie takes him in, and it's up to Ron to put his life back together, as the spell that changed him also miraculously wiped out his addiction. But can he live his life any more successfully as Wolf-Boy than he did as just plain Ron?

"Elsewhere" is a book set in the shared world of Bordertown. There were other books set in the same universe, written by a group of writers, including Terri Windling. This is the first book in a series, the second being NeverNever. Sharing Ron's story was sometimes painful, as he makes stupid mistakes, and falls into patterns of behavior that end up costing him dearly, but watching him better himself, even as his life turns to what he thinks is shit, is interesting. The book teaches lessons about life that are never preachy, and speak much about reality while couched in the language of fantasy. Though this book is marketed for teens, anyone would enjoy the book, especially fans of fantasy.

Melting Stones by Tamora Pierce

When readers first met Evumeimei Dingzai, she was a young girl bartering her services in Chamurr, where she polished stones until the magic inherent in them came out. Before that, she had been a street kid, and before that a slave, sold into slavery by her own mother. But when Briar Moss, a green mage, came into the Market in Chamurr, he recognized what she was doing was magic in and of itself, and in discovering her, he also had to find her a teacher, or teach her magic himself. But Evvy's talents had also brought her to the attention of another woman, who was using the street gangs to consolidate power for herself, and Briar had to protect her and keep her safe from being used by the woman.

After his travels with Evvy and Rosethorn, they returned to Summersea and the Winding Circle Temple there. Briar left with his foster sisters, Tris, Daja and Sandry, to travel to the northern lands of the Empress with Sandry, who had finally acceeded to the Empress's request for her to visit. Briar leaves Evvy behind with his teacher, Rosethorn, asking Evvy to take care of Rosethorn while he is gone. In his absence, Rosethorn is summoned to the Battle Islands, to answer the question as to why the plants and trees seem to be dying off in patches for no discernable reason. Travelling with her is Myrrhtide, an initiate of the Water Temple, who will be investigating why some water is going acidic as well. Evvy goes with Rosethorn only because she was involved in an altercation with some noble boys at the temple who were threatening to beat up a friend of hers. So it was either go with Rosethorn or be confined to Discipline cottage for a month. With them also travels Luvo, the living heart of a mountain, in the form of a purple and green stone mannikin that Evvy carries in a sling over one shoulder.

At the main port, they are met by Oswin, the man who does most of the problem solving in the village and the apprentice of the village mage. You see, in the universe of the Circle of Magic Books (which this book is a part of), there are two kinds of mages. The first, and most numerous, are academic mages, whose magic is all a part of books, and which require time and special circumstances or things (like candles, magic circles, and the like) to perform. The second kind of mages are ambient mages, whose magic comes from outside of themselves, but who are limited to a certain kind of magic. For instance, Briar and Rosethorn are Green Mages, who can grow plants almost instantly from seeds, and change plants so that thorn vines have sharper, harder, more numerous thorns. Or they can bring out the healing properties of a plant or herbal infusion, But they cannot work magic with rocks or metal or fire, and they can't usually do the same kind of magic that academic mages can.

The mage of the village is an academic mage, and is completely unable to help or explain exactly what is killing off the plants. Almost as soon as they arrive on the island of Starns, they are surprised by continuing small earthquakes. Evvy surprises everyone by knowing when the quakes are coming and the islanders by making a cliffside of mica shine in the sun, just by using her magic. Since the academic mages have never been off the island, and rarely see other mages, Jiatt, the apprentice mage, is stunned by Evvy's command of stones and by how she does her magic.

When they get to the village, Jiatt tells them that not only are trees dying, but that the traditional magic ley lines that he and his teacher call on are disappearing or are absurdly powerful, lending too much magic to the spells they use. Evvy knows where the ley lines are, because she can feel that magic sizzling through them, a strange feeling that makes her skin itch. More of this magic permeates the ground around where the trees have died, and Evvy, in absorbing it, goes a little crazy and finds where the new ley lines are. But in doing so, she is drawn deep inside the ground, where she finds spirits of molten stone, which is trying to break free to get to the outside air. Two of the spirits, who Evvy names Flare and Carnelian, seem most desperate to escape, and are constantly exploring the cracks in the earth or ramming themselves against the cracks to try and break free. They claim that the other magma spirits won't try to break free, so it is up to them. If they can lead the spirits out, and die, they will prove themselves to become something greater.

When Evvy comes back to the town and tells her story, Rosethorn and Myrrhtide realize that the local mountain is actually a volcano, and it is getting ready to erupt. Can they get everyone off the island in time, or will Evvy have to try to take on a volcano with her magic, all by herself?

The story held me while I was listening to it, even though I almost never listen to audio books, because I can read faster than any readers can say the lines and narration. Aside from this book, I only listened to the CD version of Saving Faith by David Baldacci, and that only because it was read by Chris Noth, who was one of my favorite actors at the time. Evvy is portrayed as someone who doesn't care for other people much, and who has no problem letting the locals deal with the mountain while she, Rosethorn and Myrrhtide flee back to Summersea. But Rosethorn, who also doesn't hold people high on her list, won't let Evvy dodge the responsibility she holds towards the people of the island, and when Evvy's bad temper and contempt for people may result in their death, only then does Evvy decide to save the island by going for the riskiest of ploys using her magic.

There isn't all that much character growth for Evvy between Street Magic, in which she first appears, and this book, but Evvy is a young character, and given the background which the story brings out, is perhaps understandable. Evvy has had to look after herself, and only herself, for a very long time. Because of mistreatment by others, she is not used to thinking about or liking, other people very much or at all. By the end of the book, she is well on her way to changing her attitude, but realizing she still has a lot to work on.

I liked the story, and I will probably like it better as a book, when I can read it in a much faster amount of time than I did listening to it here. And not only did Tamora Pierce write the book and the audioplay, she also provided some of the voices, along with Bruce Coville, fellow author and owner of the Full Cast Audio company that staged the book.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Work and life have been keeping me busy. I am reading "Deception" by Eleanor Cooney and Daniel Altieri, and listening to "Melting Stones" by Tamora Pierce on CD. Plus, I picked up a new book at work, called "Your Neighbor's Secret Life Online" by Stephen Dean, about the sort of things that lead to trouble on the internet, and how information stays on your computer and your cellphone (and your Blackberry or PDA, even when you may think you have wiped it clean.

And it's not just illegal activities that can lead to harm, like Pedophiles trolling for young kids or, shall we say "Alternative Sexual Practices" that might shock and horrify members of middle America, but things that may seem more harmless, like going wild buying stuff on online sites, which can have serious effects on your credit cards and budget. He points out how online buying, 24 hour access to selling sites and the like have made it easier for hoarders and packrats to sink deeper into the morass of an addiction to accumulating things, even stuff they have no use for and will never use nor sell.

He covers, in a general way, some of the alternative sexual practices that are rife online. In a small community, one may have problems meeting someone who is in to spanking, or coprophilia, or "golden showers", but online, there are specialized sites where people who like that sort of thing can easily meet someone who shares their likes or needs. The best part of Mr. Dean's book is that he doesn't look down on people who need such things, only to remark that certain practices (such as pedophilia) are illegal and to show how hidden desires for such things can lead to inter-family strain when a spouse has to look for such practices outside of their marriage.

I am almost finished listening to "Melting Stones" by Tamora Pierce, so it's off to finish the last CD now.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Hidden Moon by Lori Handeland

Lori Handeland's latest book in her Moon series takes place in Georgia, in the little town of Lake Bluff. Claire Kennedy is the Mayor of Lake Bluff, taking over for her father, who was mayor for many years. Since he died, she inherited his position. Though she never wanted to be mayor, and in fact, had left the town for the bright lights of Atlanta years before. She wanted to be a journalist, but her dreams were crushed when the television stations made her well aware that she was not pretty enough, not smart enough and just this side of a small-town hick.

Now Claire is back in Lake Bluff, and doing what she thinks is a pretty decent job of running the town. The town council doesn't seem to have actually done anything in years, and the editor and owner of the town paper, Balthazar Monahan wants her job, thinking she is incompetent to do anything. However, the town Sherriff is her old friend, and supports Claire.

But big times are coming for the town. The yearly Full Moon festival has come around, and Claire must chair the festival, while showing no favoritism and keeping things going on an even keel. But that is going to be harder than ever this year. For one thing, a hiker was bitten by a wolf, even though the local wisdom is that no wolves have been sighted in Georgia for years, and a band of gypsies have been hired to put on shows during the Festival. Even for the usually unbiased residents of the town, nobody seems to trust the Gypsies, including the Sheriff, Grace McDaniel, who happens to be both black and Native American.

The leader of the gyspy band, Malachi Cartwright, is interested in Claire from the first, and Claire, although she has suffered a great betrayal by a man she fell for, is returning the interest. In spades. But can Malachi be trusted, not only in the town, but with her heart.

Soon, greater problems surface. Grace has been looking for the wolf, and the hiker, ever since he escaped from the hospital by leaping out of a second floor window... and who seems to have had all his wounds heal completely. Then Claire's former boyfriend shows up, who had previously raped her, and after Malachi punches him in the nose, disappears. Following that, the newspaperman who had it in for Claire also disappears under suspicious circumstances. And when the body of Claire's ex shows up, broken and bloody at the bottom of a ravine, the coroner says he was killed by a canid, possibly a wolf. This older man also says it reminds him of his time in the army, when he was dropped behind the enemy lines and wound up in Germany, where he encountered real werewolves... And now Malachi must prove to Grace, and Claire, too, that he isn't really a werewolf... and none of his people are, either.

Then Claire is attacked on her way home by a real werewolf, who she recognizes by its human eyes as Balthazar Monahan. But the wolf is killed with a silver bullet, exploding into ash, and Claire doesn't know who killed it. But she definitely heard two wolves calling a few days before, and so it doesn't seem as though their job is over. But who is the werewolf, and where is he (or she) hiding?

Lori Handeland is an excellent writer who deftly interweaves thrilling tension, in the form of the wolf attacks and later werewolves, with the love story between Malachi and Claire, giving equal time to each without making either seem rushed or forced. This book can only be tied into her earlier books through the appearance of the Jager-Suchers, the monster hunters who were formed in an earlier book in the series, though they appear only for a short time near the end of the book. Otherwise, this book could and can stand on its own, being about both werewolves and a love story that has its roots in the far past.

This book is deeply satisfying to read, especially the ending. I would definitely gives this one five stars, if I rated books by stars. In the end, I can only say that if you enjoy supernatural romance, this is one of the finer examples of the genre.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Night Tourist

Jack Perdu, a 13 year old Classics prodigy, nearly dies after being hit by a car, but is strangely unhurt. His father, a professor, wonders if Jack was deliberately trying to kill himself, as both of them are still depressed at the death of Jack's mother, Anastasia, eight years ago. Jack fervently denies trying to kill himself, but his father sends him to New York City to see a doctor Jack has never heard of. Jack thinks he is probably a psychologist, but the visit is very short.

The doctor's office is filled with old artifacts, and Jack cannot resist handling an old golden subway token from the 1930's. When the doctor comes in and surprises him, Jack slips it into his pocket, and after the visit, he doesn't give it back. He goes to Grand Central Station, where he listens in to the tour given by a tour guide about how the accoustics of the pillared chamber mean you can hear anything said by one of the pillars at another pillar, even if it is across the room. When the tour guide moves on, he quotes John Donne, and is surprised to hear a female voice complete the poem.

This turns out to be Euri, who offers to give Jack her own guided tour of the station. Nine levels later, they come across a bum who threatens to throw Jack out unless Jack gives him something. Jack, with nothing else to offer, gives the man the old subway token, which he accepts. Jack and Euri enter, only for Jack to find that this is the true underworld of New York, where ghosts live. Or at least, new ghosts and those unable to move on live there, and now Jack is there, too. Euri is already a ghost. She was surprised he was able to see her, and doesn't know how that happened.

Humans are not allowed in the underworld, so Euri has to help Jack hide from the forces that want to kick him out. But more importantly, since New York City is the city in which his mother died eight years ago, Jack wants to find her. Euri promises to help him, and tells him he has three nights in the Underworld before he *must* return or die. The first night, they take a class explaining the Underworld at the Museum, Euri shows him how Ghosts haunt people (which is extremely ineffective as most people can't see ghosts), and they take in a play, at which they meet the ghost who has the records of the people who died eight years ago.

The next night, they set out in earnest to find Jack's mother, only to find that there are no records of her dying eight years ago. This is because, they discover, that she was a ghost long before that point, a ghost who somehow discovered with Jack's father the secret of returning to life. They also discover that the living need a "golden bough", an object that grants them the chance to enter the underworld and appears literally golden to that person alone. Some people may find more than one "golden bough" in their lifetime, others never find one.

Euri eventually reveals to Jack how she became a ghost, and that she, too, wishes to return to life, if she and Jack can find out the secret. But the forces of the ghost law are after them, and don't want anyone to learn the secret of returning. Can Jack and Euri find his mother, the secret, and return to life?

This book is a modern fairy tale, with a melancholy, almost elegiac ending. There is no sign that the author, Katherine Marsh, intends to write a sequel to the book, or that one is even possible for the characters. The living go on, the dead persist, and while Jack achieves a degree of closure over his mother's death, as does his father, not that much has really changed.

An excellent stand-alone novel that charms you as it draws you into the characters and the adventure. As well, Marsh weaves the buildings, statues and parks of New York city into the book, making the city almost a character of its own. This is a book I will be thinking about for a long time, even if it was classed as a "Children's book". Highly, highly recommended.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Secrets of the Highwayman

Melanie Jones came to Cornwall at the behest of the Law firm she works for, to put in order the estate of an old woman named Miss Pengorren. On the drive there, she meets and races a man on a horse, who abruptly disappears. The caretaker at the estate of Ravenswood tells her that the man was a ghost, and he was Nathaniel Raven, who lived nearly two centuries ago and who was shot in an act of Highway robbery. Melanie declines to believe that the man she saw was a ghost, but the painting of him she sees at the estate is impossible to ignore.

Nathaniel, meanwhile, is trying to solve the mystery of his murder, and he needs Melanie's help. He doesn't remember what happened to him, but he knows that his friend and commanding officer, Hew Pengorren, had something to do with it. When Melanie stumbles through a hole in a rock on St. Anne's Hill, she finds herself in the world between worlds, facing its queen. The Queen leads her back to Ravenswood, and tells her that Nathaniel needs her help, but it is the Ravenswood of 1813 that she is inhabiting, and Nathaniel introduces her to his family... she can see them, but they cannot see her. He shows her his mother, who is still in mourning, his father having died a mere eight weeks ago, yet that night, his mother announces that she is marrying Hew Pengorren!

Melanie feels a sense of evil radiating from Pengorren, and is afraid of him. She doesn't want to help Nathaniel, especially when he hitches a ride back to the present on her when she goes back through St. Anne's Hill. But she cannot deny the attraction she feels for him, as his trip through the hole in the stone has made him just as human and mortal as she is. But she feels something else as well... there is something in Ravenswood. Something evil that wants her. As she and Nathaniel dig into the mystery of his life in the past, Melanie is menaced by an evil that is very much alive, and wants her for a mysterious purpose that has to do with her own antecedents. As she and Nathaniel slowly fall in love, can she resist the evil that seems to be engulfing her life? And is there any future for a woman from the present and a man from the past?

This book was... okay. I sort of had a "Meh" reaction to it. The story was engaging and engrossing, but in the end, it just didn't do it for me. I do think that the author came up with an unusually twisty and convoluted plot, but even so she made it understandable. I just didn't get all that engaged in the story. There is a sort-of sequel called "Passions of the Ghost", but I'm not going to go out of my way to seek it out.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Shards of Crimson by Various

In the future, Los Angeles has become the Crimson City, fought over by Vampires, Werewolves, Humans and Demons. The last book ended with the portal to the demon realm being closed by a Human Druid, and a peace treaty being signed between the Vampire House of Dumont and the Werewolves. This is a book of four short romance stories set in the city, each by a different author from the original shared universe.

In "Time to Howl" by Liz Maverick, Tajo Maddox and his group of Rogues are going to be hired by someone for a job near Dumont Tower. Instead, it's a setup to blame the Rogues for an attack on Princess Gianna Asprey, one of the three werewolf princesses set to marry the three Dumont Vampire brothers as part of the treaty. Tajo, witnessing the attacks, takes Gia to keep her safe, but someone still wants her dead. Tajo is attracted to Gia, and she to him, but is it right for a Werewolf Princess to forget the treaty and follow her heart? And will Tajo let her?

In "DX" by Carolyn Jewel, Helen "Hell" Marshall is sent by her mentor to track down a DX, or a Demon of Unknown Origin, a Bak-Faru demon, considered by other demons to be the worst of them all, and also the most powerful. For this, she is paired with a hunky Amerindian agent named Jaden Lightfeather. She will also be trailing a Vampire named Tuan Ng, who may have dealings with the DX. But, as Jaden eventually tells her, it is a setup by her mentor, who wants to open the Portal to the Demon world again, and he needs to sacrifice her to the demon to make it possible. Why? Because with the treaty between the Vampires and Werewolves, they will rule the city, leaving the humans in last place. Jaden, too, is a Bak-Faru Demon, and he has been enslaved by her mentor. If she becomes his mate and he protects her, he can save her from the other DX and keep the gate from opening again. But will Hell choose to believe him and abandon her mentor?

In "School Bites" by Jade Lee, Toni Freedman, a teacher at a Crimson City school, is bitten by a Student who just happens to be a Werewolf on the cusp of his first change. She is immediately doctored with SaniLyco, which is supposed to cure Lycanthropy if administered early enough, but which has nowhere near the effectiveness the company that produces and markets it says it does. Toni's Principal, John Wayne Wong, an asian she has always been attracted to, tries to drive her home, but the SaniLyco fails and she succumbs to the increased senses of her Werewolf form and seduces him while they are in his car. He takes her to his house, and tells her he can help her learn to stay human, as he is a druid. At home, she is attacked by a group of teenage vigilantes pretending to be B-Ops, the section of the Crimson City police that deal with the Supernatural, but she and a group of real werewolves drive them off. The werewolves offer to let her ride out her first change in a cage in their tunnels, but she doesn't want to. She knows her career is over, but John refuses to fire her. On Monday, she returns to work, and confesses that yes, she is a werewolf, in front of a crowd of reporters gathered in front of the school. However, to show that she is not a danger to the kids, she will be answering questions put to her in the auditorium at the first moon. But can she pull it off, or will she be destroyed by those who believe that werewolves, and all supernatural beings, are a danger to kids?

In the last story, "Dark Awakening" by Patti O'Shea, Kimi Noguchi is a Kijo, which her Japanese grandmother has always told her means "witch". Two years ago, she started training to use her innate power, and now works for a detective agency where all the women who work there are Maji. She is also attracted to a Demon named Nicodemus, whose half-sister is married to Kimi's uncle, David. When Kimi is attacked by a Bak-Faru Demon named Augustin, who wishes to rape her to drain away her magic, she has no choice but to call on Nic to protect herself. Although she is attracted to him, she once overheard him telling his sister that he was tired of her throwing herself at him and following her around, which hurt Kimi so that she tried to avoid him. Now, when he confesses attraction for her, she isn't sure that he's telling the truth, and since Augustin is a Bak-Faru that even other Bak-Faru hate and fear for his power, Nic, being a combination of less-powerful demon races Grolird and Mahsei, may not be strong enough to defeat him. But since Kimi is a Kijo and can become a demoness herself, will he end up saving her, or will she be forced to save him?

As you can see, this short story collection is weighted towards the demon and werewolf end of the scale, with two stories about each, and vampires being either not present, or in the background, secondary characters of the tales. Nevertheless, most of the tales flesh out the world of the Crimson City, with the exception of the last tale, which could really conceivably have taken place anywhere. Each tale, despite its brevity, was successful, never making me think, "Oh, come on!" or questioning the characters attraction to one another. This is a solid piece of side tales to the shared Crimson City universe, and leaves me looking forward to the next tale set in the shared universe, if there will be one.

Next up, "Secrets of the Highwayman" by Sara MacKenzie.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Non Fiction day

Reading "Shards of Crimson" was delayed by reading the non-fiction book "They Can't Find Anything Wrong!" which I had hoped would help my mom, but it is chiefly about psychosomatic illness caused by various stressors like depression, anxiety, or mental trauma. I read it and decided not to give it to my mom, because I feel she would think I was saying it was all in her head, which is not really what I feel, nor what the book says.

What the book is saying is that these things do put stress on the body, which will be felt as if they were real. But since the illness is caused by stress, the doctors will rarely find a physical cause that they can treat and have it go away and heal the patient. Because the stress is mental, treating physical causes won't or doesn't help beyond a certain point, because they aren't getting at the *real* cause for the disease.

I also read two more graphic novels: Tony Stark- Director of Shield, and X-Men: Black Panther, both of which are kinda forgettable.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Double Contact, by James White

Doctor Prillicla is a Cinrusskin of physical type GLNO, a fragile insectile lifeform known for its avowed cowardice (because of its very fagility) and empathic facility. Now in charge of the hospital ship Rhabwar, because of Conway's promotion to Diagnostician, it is sent off on a mission where no less than three distress beacons have gone off in the same sector of space. One is from a Monitor Corps scoutship, the others from races and species unknown. Since they are in the same sector of space, he is sent to deal with all three.

Travelling to the site of the scoutship disaster, they encounter the ship dead in space, with an alien ship floating nearby. The Rhabwar attemtpts to go to the ship's rescue, since there is no communication from either ship, but the scoutship crew, who are visible through the windows of the control deck, try to wave them off, becoming more and more desperate the closer they come. At last, even under tractor beams, the other ship attempts to flee into the atmosphere of the nearby planet, with predictable results: her hull heats up, nearly cooking the men within. The Rhabwar is able to force her down into the ocean, cooling the hull and saving the men on board, though not without major damage.

Most of the medical team goes down to the planet to help the men from the scoutship, but Prillicla turns his attention to the alien ship still in orbit. He is able to see that the ship is damaged, and to work with the robot on board to find the two still-living inhabitants, members of an alien race who seem to have an innate hatred and aversion to humans. As he works to repair the ship and slowly get them used to the humans of the Rhabwar's crew, Pathologist Murchison, a human female, is having an encounter with the race of creatures living on the planet, spider-like beings who sail the sea on ships, and capture her one day when she goes for a walk. Luckily, she is with Danalta, who warns the other doctors and frees her from the ship, enabling her to swim to shore and escape.

But all is not well. The Spider-creatures gather in great numbers for a war on the doctors and their patients. The outcome of the war is never in doubt, for the spider-creatures are primitives with primitive weapons, and the scout ship could leave at any time. But Prillicla wants to make friends with them, and when some spiders are injured when attacking the hospital, he sees his chance to try and befriend them. But will his plan work in time to do any good?

As always, James White is excellent at introducing alien characters and not having them be simply humans wearing alien skins (that is to say, alien on the surface, but with human thoughts and motivations), and in this book, we get no less than three alien races: Cinrusskin (Prillicla), the Spider-creatures, and the aliens of the spaceship, each of which have their own problems to be overcome. In the end, not only are they overcome, but understanding is reached with all of them, and two of them band together in ways which will make each stronger.

In a way, this series is like CSI: Space Medicine, in a good way, and just as addicting as the shows are. Read one today. You'll be glad you did!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Frobisher's Savage by Leonard Tourney

In 1576, Martin Frobisher tried to find a route to Cathay, but ended up in Canada, where he abducted a local native and brought him back to England as a curiosity. Adam, as Frobisher named him (and later, Adam Nemo) was taken by one of Frobisher's men to Essex when the man went home to his family. He intended to turn Adam into a servant, but later gave Adam to another man when his wife objected to living with a savage in her own home. For 20 years, he has been a servant, and is now almost more English than anything else. He still goes to visit John Crookback's home, for he is a friend of John's son Nicholas, born deaf, dumb and mentally handicapped.

One Sunday morning, when most of the town is in church, Adam, who had been left behind took look after a maid of the household taken sick, only to find out she was faking, goes to visit John Crookback. He encounters a beggar on the way, who curses him when Adam chases him off his master's land. When he gets to John's house, outside, his hound is dead, butchered outside. The house is filled with blood, and Nicholas is crying. Nicholas leads Adam to the well, where he sees something in the water.

Leaving Nicholas after ensuring he is all right, Adam runs to church and says there is something very wrong at the Crookback farm. He convinces the other men of the town to come with him, and they find the bodies of John, his wife, and their two younger children, all badly mutilated and dead. The local lord, Sir Thomas, puts Matthew in charge of the investigation, for the sherriff is ill, and dies shortly afterwards. Matthew does his best to investigate, but people in town, along with John Crookback's two older daughters by his first wife, quickly fixate on Adam and Nicholas as the murderers, Adam because he is a foreigner, and Nicholas because of what they see as "God's Curse". Adding to the growing ill-feeling is Agnes Profytt, one of John's older daughters, who is convinced Nicholas did so to inherit John's farm, especially as neither she nor her sister were to inherit. Along with this is the beggar, who returns when hearing about the murder and spreads lies about Adam to get free ale from the men who are interested in the case.

Matthew takes Adam and Nicholas in as his guests, but when a group of townsfolk nearly break in during the night to take their revenge on Adam and Nicholas, Matthew convinces them to leave peacefully. Adam hears the commotion, and flees with Nicholas, which isn't discovered until the next day, and Matthew takes the blame for not holding them more securely. He leaves to track the two men down, along with a posse comitatus of village men and Sir Thomas, while his wife Joan, who feels that neither Adam nor Nicholas were guilty, investigates on her own. It turns out there was a comission to investigate John Crookback when he came home from the sea, as there was some question as to if he was the correct man or not. It was resolved in Crookback's favor, but Joan is not sure if he actually was the man or not.

Agnes Profytt hears of Joan's investigation and tars her as a snooper and a gossip, wanting to get the Crookshank farm for herself and her husband, since if John Crookshank was a fake, his daughters would not inherit. Matthew and company return with the fugitives, who are taken into Sir Thomas' care, and Joan and Matthew both must deal with the fallout from her investigation. Matthew is also convinced neither Adam nor Nicholas was a killer, either alone or together, and he must investigate a letter concerning black rocks containing gold that was found in John Crookback's possession. Did this have something to do with the murder?

When Matthew is attacked and thrown in the selfsame well, he must survive long enough to winkle out the facts, and find the true murderer.

Leonard Tourney is a very gifted Historical mystery writer. This was his last Matthew and Joan Stock mystery, after a series of seven others, and I hope he goes back to writing more, although this was written fourteen years ago. (1994) He gives the feeling of what small-town medieval life must have been like, with fearful, suspicious people who looked on outsiders with nothing but suspicion. (Although I'll admit it's not all that different from rural, small-town life today). With gossip and the tavern being the most anyone got to know of others, and the consequences of being shunned by others in the same town. (Since today, one can simply leave... in Medieval times, most people didn't have that option.) There was also an extreme lack of privacy if you weren't rich... people grew up living in generally the same room, and there was no "Middle Class" like we have today. Leonard Tourney brings it all to vivid life, and reminds me why it's nice to imagine living in the middle ages, but actually living there? A Nightmare for a modern person! And although he doesn't mention the stench, because his characters would be used to it, that would drive any modern man or woman nuts.

Next up, Double Contact, by James White.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Kitty and the Silver Bullet

Kitty Norville is a successful talk show host with a boyfriend/lover who is a lawyer, a massive fan base, and she just happens to be a werewolf on top of it. So is her lover/mate. He was made by a different werewolf, but Kitty adopted him and now they are a pack of two. This doesn't prevent more shit-tastic stuff from happening in her life, however.

To start out with, after one night of life as a werewolf, she wakes up to a massive stomach-ache and some blood seeping out of places that for most women, are intensely private. Even though she knows that werewolves don't get sick, she goes to the doctor, only to learn that she had a miscarriage. This shocks her, mostly because she didn't even know she was pregnant. She calls up a researcher friend, to find out this is common with female werewolves. They will get pregnant, but the fetus cannot change and will be aborted whenever the female werewolf changes to her wolf form. Kitty, even though she didn't want to have kids right now, and didn't think she could get pregnant, is shocked and dismayed. She mourns the life of her fetus with Ben.

She also is approached by her Vampire friend Rick, telling her about an attack by Vampires on the patrons of a club in Denver, with multiple fatalities. Rick can see that Arturo, the current Master of Denver, isn't able to control the vampires there. As this is supposed to be his job, Rick has decided to attempt a coup and take over himself, as there doesn't seem to be anyone else with the power, or the cojones, for the job. But, he wants Kitty to support him. She doesn't want to get involved in any kind of war, so she turns him down.

But all of that gets put on the back burner when her family calls. Her mother is sick. Actually, they found a lump in her breast and need to biopsy it to see if it is cancerous. Kitty promises to return home, even though her former Alpha, Carl, has told her that he would kill her if she ever came back to Denver. Carl, although the leader of the pack of werewolves Kitty ran away from, is real scum, having a strongly sadistic streak and is given to raping women, when not abusing everyone around him in other ways. His mate, Meg, is another piece of work, who actively eggs him on and watches him when he abuses others. Both of them are truly incompetent when it comes to leading the pack, but the sadism and abuse they deal out to the others in the pack allows them to stay on top. Kitty, who was dealt the most abuse by Carl, is terrified of him. Just the thought of encountering him again is enough to send her running, or to make her hyperventilate.

She returns to Denver, hoping to stay low and avoid Carl and Meg, but when she is approached by the manager for the singing (and acting) diva named Mercedes Cook, she is surprised to find out that Ms. Cook is a vampire, and she wants to come out as one and be interviewed by Kitty on her show. Kitty agrees and also goes to see a show by Mercedes as part of her sold-out concert tour. The Interview goes smoothly, and the next day, Kitty and Ben are invited by Mercdes to her room at her hotel for a drink. When she arrives, she finds that Rick is already there, and he's somewhat annoyed that she has come to Denver when she said she would never return the last time he asked her. And even worse, when Mercedes' other guests arrive and they turn out to be Armando, the Master of the City and Carl and Meg. A fight nearly ensues when it turns out that Mercedes has played Kitty like a fish on a line, and the personality she pretended to is anything but the real thing.

They are able to get out without a fight, barely, and Kitty is all for fleeing the city immediately. Ben tells her she can, but she will be leaving without him. Kitty goes, but ends up only visiting Cormac, Ben's brother, in prison. Cormac was a hunter of supernatural things, and he almost stalked Kitty before realizing she was a good person. However, after a number of foes tracked Kitty to a cabin where she was writing a book in the last novel, Cormac took the fall for the deaths that resulted. His years of monster-hunting have given him a lot of information, though, and he tells Kitty that she will keep running unless she takes Carl out. He even gives her a plan for doing so.

Realizing that Ben stands no chance alone, and mainly because she loves him, Kitty returns. One night after her show, she is approached by Jenny, a new member of Carl's Pack. Jenny is young and afraid, a former teenage club-goer seduced by Carl who agreed to become a werewolf because she was in love with him. Now, however, she has Kitty's former place in the pack, as the one Carl most often beats and abuses. She wants the abuse to end, but she still loves him. Kitty has a talk with her, but tells Jenny that Jenny must really want to leave before Kitty will help her. Jenny takes Kitty's card and leaves, but calls her later that night and asks Kitty to help her leave.

Kitty takes Jenny in and helps her makes arrangements to leave the city and stay with Alette, a vampire in Washington D.C. The day arrives and Ben takes Jenny to the airport, leaving her at the gate. But she never arrives and seems not to even have gotten on the plane. Kitty is sad, but becomes devastated when Jenny's body turns up in a warehouse, along with Rick's supporters in his war against Armando, all slaughtered by werewolves and other vampires. Worse, Jenny died long before the others did. Since Carl and Armando are allied, Kitty knows who killed Jenny and the others. This finally makes her take off the kid gloves and decide to deal with Carl and Meg once and for all.

She recruits a member of Carl's pack named Shaun, and with Ben, the three of them go to her old Pack's range and mark all over it with their own scent as a declaration of war. The next morning, they are approached by Becky, another member of Carl's pack, who tells them Carl is going to be mighty pissed, but that she would rather join their pack than remain in Carl's, and she does so.

Carl makes threats against Kitty, but tells her he will go against the things she loves rather than herself or the nucleus of the new pack, and Kitty is afraid for her family. She works with her new pack, the police, and Rick to keep her family safe. Instead, Carl goes after the radiostation where she used to work, KNOB, but she finds out and heads him off there. Some of the wolves are arrested, but Carl gets away. Rick has recruited her in payment for helping her keep her family safe, and she gets caught up in the war with Rick and Armando again, which leads to her finding out that Rick's lieutenant and shape-shifting friend is actually working for Mercedes Cook, who is behind the conflict between Rick and Armando. The Conflict ends, more or less successfully, and Kitty finds out that Ben and Rick's friend were sent to take out Carl. Kitty leaves to find them and rescue Ben, and kills Meg before the rest of the pack take down Carl and eat him. The book ends with Ben proposing to Kitty and she accepting his ring, which looks like silver, but is actually white gold, as something of a joke between them.

This book seems like it might be the transition point in the series, with Kitty undergoing several life changes (having a miscarrige, having a parent get exremely sick and nearly die, facing up to a major fear in her life, taking on the responsibility for a new pack, and getting engaged- all in one book), and, through two of them, she will have to give up her nomad ways of the former books, and settle down in one place. Despite that, it was pleasant seeing Kitty take charge of her life, and both growing and maturing in the process.

We also get to learn a lot more about vampires, and about Rick and the "Long Game" of the vampires. Carrie Vaughn here is in full form, giving an entertaining book that fairly sings along, carrying the reader along with the story. While not frenetic, the pacing is smooth throughout, never feeling rushed or forced. I wish many more authors were as good as Ms. Vaughn!

Next up, "Frobisher's Savage" by Leonard Tourney, a historical mystery set in Elizabethan times.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Mine to Possess

I really have to hand it to Nalini Singh. She's created a vibrantly-portrayed, interesting world somewhat analogous to our own, but set years in the future, where there are three types of people: Changlings, Psy, and normal humans. Back in 1973 on this world, the Psychically gifted instituted a program called Silence, which wiped all emotion from the Psy through a program of brainwashing and mental training. Not all Psy submitted or even thought it was a good thing, some broke away from the rest and disappeared, and now, over 100 years later, all Psy are cold and emotionless... or are they?

Holding the Psy together is a construct called the PsyNet, which links their brains together and helps enforce Silence. The Psy look down on the other two peoples who share their world, seeing humans as dull and ordinary, and Changelings as little better than animals. But the Psy are having problems. The minds that anchor the PsyNet are succumbing to madness, and with each anchor that falls away, Chaos grows in the PsyNet. The Shadow-Mind, the Shadow side of the Net Mind that oversees the PsyNet, holds the suppressed emotions of the Psy, and is projecting the dark emotions into the minds of the Psy. Weaker Psy affected by the Shadow-Mind become sadistic serial killers, acting out the repressed and hateful desires locked away by the Silence.

In past books in the series, Psy have met and fallen in love with Changeling warriors, and now the series adds an ordinary, or perhaps not so ordinary, human to the mix. Talin McKade works for an organization called Shine, which is dedicated to finding poor, orphaned and abandoned children of exceptional talent and seeing that they get ahead. But someone has been abducting the children and their bodies are later found beaten and mutilated, missing parts. Talin is angry and heartbroken over the deaths, but is seeking a young man from the Shine program named Jonquil, who has also been abducted. To do so, she seeks out a childhood friend named Clay Bennett, a leopard shifter.

Although they once were friends, Clay and Talin haven't seen each other in years, since the night Clay killed Talin's abusive foster father. Clay went to jail for the act, and Talin let him believe she was dead rather than face her fear of him. Clay might want to turn her down, as he can feel her fear very deeply, and it angers him. Clay has been a broken man since he was told Talin was dead, and he has nearly gone over the edge into forgetting his human self and becoming completely animal.

Talin has another secret she is keeping as well. She is dying, and no one seems to know the cause. She passes out or goes into fugue states where she cannot remember what she has done. She wants to find Jonquil before she can die, because she promised him she would stick by him. Of course, this lends a sense of mystery and urgency to the action, mystery as the reader and the characters around her are baffled as to what could be killing her, and urgency (of course) because there is a question as to whether she will live long enough to retrieve Jonquil. It is specifically stated that she was told by the doctors that she has less than six months to live.

Clay is willing to help her find Jonquil, but he also wants to find out why she had the foster-care people tell him she was dead in a car accident, and in the Changeling way, he touches her and pushes her around with his body, constantly provoking her and her senses. Talin doesn't want to have a relationship with him, other than friendship, but she finds herself reacting with jealousy to other women's relationships with him, and he can smell the hunger for him that she exudes whenever he touches her. Obviously, her body and her mouth disagree on what she wants (I can't even say her brain disagrees).

More details of the world as it is are unveiled in the book, as well as setting up the sequel, but both are introduced in such a way as to not have it obviously shoehorned in. Well, okay, it's a little obvious, but the way it is done still makes it integral to the story. Even in these modern (in terms of the book) times, not every Psy believes that they need to take the Silence a step further and change the Psy into a hive-mind, controlled by the council. However, it seems the council is taking their race in that direction via an implant directly into the brain. Even though there are many obstacles on the path to that goal, and the member of the council overseeing the project will accept any price to bring it to fruition, even the bodies of dead children and teenagers.

While mentioned in the beginning of the book (and in the other books in this series as well), this book delves into what happened to the Psy who dissented with the silence and with their descendents. The beginning of the book presents several speculations, including that they were forcibly brainwashed in "reeducation camps", were killed by the Council who came to rule the Psy and so on. But in the book, we get to see what happened, and how the recent defections from the PsyNet by the former Psy who mated and married Changelings has affected not only the Psy, but the humans as well.

Since this is a romance as well as a Paranormal Sci-Fi book, the story is also about the romance between Clay and Talin. There certainly is a HEA (Happy Ever After, for those of you unfamilliar with the term) that comes organically from the story itself, which makes it even more believable. But though this is a romance book, there is enough plot and backstory and world here to keep even an ardent Sci-Fi fan happy. So, if you are looking for an interestingly well-contructed world with a tense plot, this would fit very well. And if you are looking for a good romance? That, too. And that's one of the things I have to hand it to Nalini Singh for. Not only can she write an excellent romance, but she can write a cracking good Sci-Fi story and intertwine the two so that it feels like an organic whole, not just a romance novel with some vaguely Science-Fictiony stuff thrown in for good measure, and not just a Sci-Fi novel with the obligatory romance languishing in a subplot clearly delineated for it. Combining the stories, and combining them well, is where she excels, making the novel more than the sum of its component parts. Definitely one to grab.

Next up, "Kitty and the Silver Bullet" by Carrie Vaughn, the latest in the Kitty Norville series of novels.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Manga Mania

I didn't have much time to read yesterday, and I am still in the middle of Nalini Singh's "Mine to Possess", but I did read a book called "Love's Executioner and other Tales"; ten tales of psychiatric therapy from a Stanford University psychiatrist. Many were successful, others not so much, but each fascinating in their own way. I also got a chance to read some more manga from the library, Dragon Drive 5 and 6, and Ouran High School Host Club 10.

"Dragon Drive" reminds me a lot of Pokemon or Digimon. It's about a young boy who isn't very good in school, but his female friend introduces him to a new game called "Dragon Drive", which is played at underground centers all over Japan. Dragons are assigned randomly, and our young hero is assigned what seems to be an extremely juvenile and useless dragon. However, the dragon is able to transform based on his owner's belief in him, and using the Power of Heart(TM), he is able to overcome dragons much larger and more powerful when he bonds with his own Dragon. Later, he finds out that the duels and games he has been playing is actually due to an alternate universe, and gets sucked into it along with his female friend and worst rival. The Corporation Ri-On is using the game to try and take over this alternate world and steal certain artifacts of power. I wouldn't buy this manga myself, but I will read it from the Library.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Voice of Crow

"Voice of Crow" by Jeri Smith-Ready is the sequel to a book I read last year called "Eyes of Crow". In that book, we meet Rhia, a young woman born into a land where the spirits of animals give gifts to young people, leaving them with some supernatural ability. In Rhia's place, she is gifted with the spirit of Crow, leaving her able to hear the voices of the dead. Because there are no other crow-born in her village, she is sent to a neighboring village, guided by a young man named Marek, a wolf-born who abused the gifts of his spirit, and because of this, he cannot turn his gift of invisibility off.

While at the village of Kalindos, she is tutored by her mentor Coranna and falls in love with Marek, even though she can't see him. In the end, they make love, and he is restored to visibility. But her people are under threat by another nation whom they call the Descendents, but who call themselves Illion. Illionders don't have the gifts of the spirit, and their lands are slowly being played out, so they set out to conquer Rhia's people. Of course, they fight back, and manage to drive the Illionders off at Rhia's home village of Asermos, but not without a great deal of lives lost.

In Voice of Crow, Rhia is pregnant with Marek's child, and has entered her second level of power, able to travel into the lands of the dead. Marek, since he once had a wife and child who died in childbirth, is already at his second level of power (second and third levels of power involve the next generation. Second level occurs when you become a parent, third when you become a grandparent). They are traveling back to Kalindos when they find Illionders travelling away from the village. Not knowing what they will find, they hasten back to Kalindos to find it, too, has been attacked. Most of the council who once ruled there are dead, and so are many others, but Coranna is still alive, along with many of the second level wolf-born, who each took a child and turned invisible to keep the children safe, spiriting them off into the forest (literally) unseen.

Despite the attack, Rhia's people feel like they might just have the Descendents beaten, and Rhia and Marek finally marry, to a great deal of celebration by her people, who learn that one of Rhia's children will be the next Raven born. She is also the most powerful Crow-born in several generations.

Meanwhile, back in Asermos, a Illionder named Filip is recuperating from having half of his leg chopped off. Despite the fact that they were enemy combatants, Rhia's people saved them from dying, mostly in order to get information about Ilion. Filip is suicidal over his leg, which will make him less than human in the eyes of his people, and shame his family. But he is also convinced that he is going insane, as he can hear the voices of the birds around him as human speech. And he isn't the only Ilionder having this problem, as another young soldier named Kiril can now create a ball of light with his hands. Kiril is determined to escape, but Filip, now maimed, cannot return home to his people. He will let Kiril escape, but stay behind himself. He also tries to get one of Rhia's people to kill him and put him out of his misery, but he is saved by the healer, who later learns of his new powers. She tells him she has been chosen by the horse, but he doesn't want these powers.

After he heals enough to be mobile, along with a prosthetic leg and crutches, Rhia's father, Tereus, takes Filip into his farm in exchange for Filip doing farm chores. Filip, although still wanting to die, also hates being a burden and agrees. There, he meets Alanka, a wolf-born huntress, who expresses an interest in him. They meet to talk many times.

Meanwhile, Rhia has been prophesied to bear the next Raven-born child, set to shake up the culture of her people. She gives birth to her son, and she and Marek enjoy being parents. But then her son is stolen by Ilionders, along with four other children from her village, and Marek goes off in pursuit. But he is captured by the Ilionders, and he goes quietly to look after his son. At one point he is nearly rescued, but they recover the wrong cradle, and Marek is forced to return with the soldiers as they take the children to Ilion. The Ilionders want to take the children so that they can raise their own set of children with power to later return and take over the lands of Rhia's people once more.

Mark and Rhia's son, Nilik, is sold to an Ilionder senator named Basha Mylosa, who lost her own son and needs a new one to raise. She not only buys Nilik, but Maren as well, and spends her time tormenting him, and later, ordering him to her bed, under threat of violence to his son to get him to comply. She teaches him to read a little and despite the fact that Marek hates her, he stays merely so that he will be able to stay with his son. But he knows that as soon as Nilik grows old enough to remember, Basha will have to get rid of him so that Nilik, who she has renamed Demedor, will think of himself as only her son.

Rhia, Filip and the others have arrived in the city and track Marek to one of the city markets. Filip has accepted the magic of the Horse, and now has it to draw on. He is also deeply in love with Alanka, and she with him. Filip overhears the story of Basha Mylosa, and her mysteriously-appearing son, who she is trying to pass off as her own. They contact Marek and arrage to get into the house by having Basha comission a statue of a Fox from Arcas, a Spider-Born with a gift for carving. Marek, who accompanies her, sees the statues Arcas has already carved and is able to deduce who is in the rescue party from seeing the statues of the spirits they honor.

A few days later, Marek awakes to hear Nilik crying. Basha had proposed taking the infants stolen from Rhia's people and training them so that when they grew, they could use their powers on the side of the Ilionders against their own people. But when the measure passed, she did not think they would also take Nilik. She once again demands Marek's presence in her bed, telling him she will not let him go until he makes her pregnant. But they are interrupted by Rhia and the rest, who break into the house. Basha is killed, and they go in pursuit of the cart with the stolen children, managing to catch up and save them just in time.

Filip's old companion Kiril is among the soldiers, and has been touched by Firefly. Filip persuades him to come back to Rhia's people, and Rhia must make a journey into death to retrieve a piece of Marek's soul that Basha stole from him. But Basha is missing a piece of her own soul, and she will not give up Marek's without her own. But can Rhia retrieve it before she is too weak to return from the lands of the dead?

This was an interesting and entertaining book, although I prefer the cover model on the first book to the one depicted on this one. Additionally, the story is expanded when it treats the Descendents or Ilionders, as real people and reveals that they, too, have magic, but that the magic of the spirits cannot survive in the Ilionder cities, as they are too far removed from nature. By showing the Ilionders as real people and not just evil invaders (although many of the cultural attitudes are extremely harsh- such as Filip's mutilation being something that would bring shame on his family, and later on, he sees his father talking to another senator. His father claims to miss him, but with Filip disguised as a beggar he is about to reveal himself to his father when his father basically says that it's better that Filip died than lived on a useless cripple like the beggar in front of me (referring to Filip)). Although this does veer a bit towards the "all Ilionders are cruel and nasty" trope, there are examples of good Ilionders as well, and they are shown to have a real reason to invade Rhia's country, not just because they are cruel and nasty.

I am definitely looking forward to the third book, and even more if Jeri Smith-Ready sees fit to write them.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Beka Cooper: Terrier

Rebekah, or "Beka" Cooper is the famous ancestress of George Cooper, the King of Thieves, who ended up marrying Alanna the Lioness, Champion of Tortall. Surprisingly enough, his Ancestress is one of the Provost's "Dogs", who are like Policemen, but with differences.

Beka's mother was rejected for having lung rot, robbed and beaten by her lover, a man who had ties to the worst thieves gang in Corus, the Bold Brass Gang. He took back a piece of stolen jewelry he gave her when he left, and for these acts, Beka, at merely 8 years old, tracks the man down and follows him until she learns all about the gang he belongs to. Her attempts to go to the Dogs are laughed off, until she goes to the leader of the Dogs, the Provost himself, who listens to her and brings in the entire gang from her information. Then he takes Rebekah and her entire family into his household. Beka serves as a message runner until she is old enough to enter the Dog Training School, and from there, she asks to serve in the worst district in town, where she used to live, the Cesspool.

Beka doesn't just have luck and training on her side, she has magic. She can hear the voices of the dead souls carried by the pigeons that roam the city, for pigeons are the birds of the Dead God. Not every soul is carried by a pigeon, only the ones who are troubled, and refuse to move on. But she can also hear the voices of the spinners, never-fading whirlwinds that suck up the sounds of people talking and bad deeds done. And also on her side is her black cat, Pounce, who is magical and has purple eyes. He can also talk to her, but tends to do it when no one is near, even if only Beka can hear him.

Beka is assigned to Jane Street Station, and being an apprentice Dog, is known as a Puppy. She will serve as a Puppy for a year before becoming a full-fledged Dog herself. She is assigned to the two best Dogs in the station as their Puppy, Clara Goodwin and Matthias or Mattes Turnstall. They are to look out after her and teach her the ins and outs of the Cesspool.

On her first night, they go to see Crookshank, the unofficial ruler of the Cesspool, at the Court of the Rogue. His grandson, Rolond, was kidnapped and disappeared, and he claims it was by someone called the Shadow Snake. The Shadow Snake is a tale to frighten children, but that is who is taking the credit for the kidnapping. Beka knew Rolond, who is the son of one of her childhood friends, Tansy, who is married to Herun Lofts, Crookshank's grandson. Beka is upset that Rolond is gone, and later that night, when they go to visit Crookshank's house, she meets with Tansy, who says that Herun has gone, but before he did, he gave her a stone and claimed it would make them both rich. Tansy, still upset over her son's disappearance, doesn't want the stone, which is filled with shimmering lights and colors buried in pinkish-red matrix rock.

When Beka stares into the rock, she becomes almost entranced, but tucks it into her boot for later study. When she shows it to her partners, none of them know what it is, either. They take it to the mage at the station, who gets excited, but claims it is nothing, and then says he will hold on to it to investigate it. None of the Dogs believe him, and Pounce knocks the stone out of his hands and it falls through a knot in the wooden floor into the basement, from which he later retrieves it.

During the night, they also introduce Beka to many of the people living in the Cesspool and who she will be dealing with on a nightly basis. One of which includes Mistress Nott, a baker whose children Beka was friends with when she was growing up. Mistress Nott is a special friend of Mattes and Goodwin, and gives them deals on wares from her shop because she appreciates how they keep the Cesspool's crime down. Beka buys some cakes for her for her morning's breakfast.

The next morning, Beka finds that three rogues from the Court of the Rogue: Rosto, Aniki and Kora, from Scanra, have moved into the house that she is living in. They bring her breakfast, and eat together, sharing information. Beka also feeds the pigeons and hears what the souls riding them have to say. Afterwards, she and Mattes take the stone to the Gemcutters and gemdealer's guild, where a mage named Jungen Berryman tells them that the stone is a fire opal, and while this one has too much matrix rock in it to be truly valuable, they are highly sought after and expensive, for they can hold spells and serve as fascinators. He would like to know where it came from, and Beka tells him the stone looks like it comes from the Cesspool. The mage laughs at the idea, and claims that they usually come from out of the Kingdom. If fire opals were found in Corus, it would bring a lot of money to the city. There is to be a sale of fire opals here, for which collectors from the surrounding kingdoms are already gathering.

That night, Beka chases down a woman who is threatening to kill her children, and who abuses them and her husband. The children hate Beka for not letting her go, especially when the woman is sentenced to be sent to the farms for hard labor for five years. The occasionally show up to fling garbage at Beka, call her names and berate her, and run away.

Beka discovers that Rolond is not the only child to be stolen away from his mother by the Shadow Snake. In fact, he appears to have been operating in Corus for years, stealing away children and demanding any valuables a person has. If the valuables are given, the child is returned unharmed. If not, they are never seen again. Beka is upset that this has been going on in the city and vows to find and bring down the Shadow Snake, whoever they are. She also becomes aware that nine souls were taken for digging in a basement, but then killed after laboring for all too long in the dark.

She thinks that Crookshank, also known as Ammon Lofts, his real name, is somehow behind the diggers, and thinks they are digging up the fire opals, which have become much, much too common about the town for them to be imported. Along with the fact that the matrix rock they are in resembles the rock supporting the Cesspool, she convinces her partners that they must find out where the men are digging, and find them, while at the same time investigating the Shadow Snake case with the help of Aniki, who in addition to being a Rogue is also a Mage.

This was a really excellent book. Beka is resourceful, determined and utterly believable as a character. Even when the rest of her family, being trained to life in the Provost's household, looks down on her, she continues to do what she sees as the right thing. In fact, at the end of the book, Beka is given the label "Terrier", which is used for a dog who does great things, even though she insists she doesn't deserve it.

Being a YA book, the romance level is kept to a minimum. Although Rosto, her neighbor, is handsome enough to make her girly parts tingle (not to mention the rest of her, including, as she says, "her peaches"), she is wary of getting involved with someone who is a Rogue, especially at the end, when she figures out that the new King of the Rogues is Rosto. Given how both of them seem to feel about each other, though, it seems clear that this will be expanded on in the next book, "Beka Cooper: Bloodhound". I am looking forward to it very much.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Catching up

When I woke on Thursday, my back and left shoulder were hurting. When I got into work, I slammed down on a DVD case to open it, like I usually do, and a bolt of pain shot right up my arm like a lightning bolt, and then back down again.

Well, I got to sit with an ice pack on it for a while, which numbed it down some, and my boss Sharon convinced me to stay the night. But I told her I was going to the chiropractor the next day, as I was convinced it was due to my back, which has been hurting anyway. I worked the rest of the night without opening any DVD cases, and went to the chiropractor the next day. Turns out I have really screwed up my back, presumably with all the bending, lifting and tugging I do on mom. My upper back was worked on, but my lower back was too stiff, sore and irritated to work on, so I will be going back this coming Monday for more work. My arm is better now, but my back still aches occasionally, and I worked Saturday as well.

Yesterday, we had carpet cleaners from Sears in to clean our carpet. As they were cleaning, they hit our etejaire amd two of the glass shelves fell, destroying everything underneath. Well, not quite everything, but my mother was livid at me for hiring them in the first place. I know she was upset (not that she hasn't taken out a shelf from the etejaire from when she fell and tried to use it to get up), but because so many of the things I gave her for birthdays and anniversaries were destroyed as well. A Lenox Bud Vase, a Vase from Hallmark I bought when we lived in New York State, two of her Chinese Ladies (One a goddess, the other a woman kneeling in a Kimono), a plate that belonged to my grandmother and her mother, A vase in Pastel Flowers she'd bought in Florida, a ginger jar with a lid, and probably other stuff as well, all reduced to pretty much shards.

The cleaners notified their boss, and today he came to look at the damage. He will fix the base of the ginger jar, and get us some new shelves from a glass cutter, and reimburse us $300 for the stuff we lost, which may cover the monetary value, but not the sentiments, of course.

We also had the Merry Maids in today, to finish cleaning up so everything is clean and sparkling (Well, as close to sparkling as it gets around here, which is not so much). In the time between, I have also been reading, including a non-fiction book about Herculaneum. Herculaneum has always fascinated me. At one point when I was younger, I wanted to be an archaeologist. I swiftly changed majors when I got to college, but I am still interested in Archaeology.

Back when I was growing up, when people talked about the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD, it was assumed that the people of Herculaneum had gotten out of the city, while those in Pompeii had mostly died. Then, in the late 90's, they finally uncovered the seaport of Herculaneum, and the first of the bodies... The book I read was written by the female scientist who was brought in to look at the bodies, which had been found in bays where boats were stored over the winter. They had been suffocated by the gasses from the eruption, and then covered in ash and mud. One of the saddest skeletons found was a young and pretty slave girl, no more than a teenager, who had been forced to carry burdens too heavy for her and who had recently had a tooth pulled. She was found cradling what had probably been her master's child, who wore gold jewelry and who had died in her arms. The book also reconstructed the last days in Herculaneum, and included the "stories" of the other skeletons found nearby: a woman they called "The Ring Lady", a man called "The Soldier" and an old woman.

Another book I read was "More X Files" by Joe Nickell, a man who has investigated and debunked many supernatural hoaxes, scams and superstitions. This was 48 short cases or investigations he had taken part in, in many cases showing how it was done, although since many of them involved religion, people continue to believe in them, mainly because they want to.

I also finished two fiction books by Elizabeth Vaughn, "Warprize" and "Warsworn". These are the first two books of a trilogy, which I read out of order, reading the third book, "Warlord" some time ago. I enjoyed it greatly, even though I came to the story two-thirds of the way in.

"Warprize" is the story of Xylara of the House of Xy. A healer and princess, she has been disobeying her brother's order not to treat the enemy prisoners and has been going to the place he keeps them after she has finished with the wounded of her own side. This infuriates her brother Xymund, who has not much of a good opinion of her anyway. He is actually her half-brother, being the son of the King's first wife, while Xylara was born to the King's second wife. Xymund could have married her off, but he has refused all offers for her hand.

Xylara's kingdom is at war with the Firelanders, who are both hated and feared. They come from far away, and are usually known as raiders, but this time they have come to conquer Xyeria, a Warlord at their head, and an army backing him up.

When Xylara goes to heal the prisoners that night, there is a new captive with them named Simus. Xylara is able to save his life, and his leg, but discovers that he is an officer while doing so. Certain that if she turns him in to her brother that Simus will be tortured for information and killed, she hides his brooch of status and leaves to go back to the castle. She hopes to take the information to the General of the Armies, who is a decent man.

However, she is not able to speak to him. That afternoon, while buying supplies, she meets a supposed mercenary named Keir who knows the ways of Firelanders and tells her that they drink Kavage, and where to find some. She thanks him and buys it, as well as a bowl for them to brew it in. Keir also asks her to pass on a message to Simus, but she refuses, not willing to be a traitor to her country. Her brother, Xymund, may be an incompetent King, but she is not willing to betray him, either.

The Firelanders are delighted to recieve the Kavage, and that night her brother summons her. The Warlord has sued for peace, and in return wants only one thing. Xylara, to be his Warprize, or, as her brother tells her, his slave. He has already agreed to save the Kingdom. He will swear fealty to the Warlord and have a Firelander overseer to see to the running of the Kingdom, but since he was already losing the war, this is better than the alternative of being completely overrun and the Kingdom destroyed. Xylara, wanting to save the Kingdom, and feeling she has no other choice, agrees.

The Warlord sends her a trunk and says that she may only wear what is in it to the ceremony. She is horrified to find it contains only a thin shift, but is determined to go through with the ceremony. In it, she agrees to be his Warprize, and a set of silver bracelets is locked on her wrists. As part of the ceremony, she agrees to take nothing except from his hands. She is also shocked to find that Keir is the Warlord. He takes her to his tent, and although she expects to be raped, he leaves her alone that night.

The next morning, she is awakened by a scarred man named Marcus, who finds her clothes, mostly a tunic and trousers, and feeds her from food the Warlord commanded him to have for her. She leaves the tent to explore and finds the tent with the wounded, who are lying in filth, untaken care of. As a healer, this angers her, and she berates the guard who is supposed to be watching over them. She cleans up the tent herself and sends the guard for clean water before treating the prisoner's wounds.

When Keir finds her, he and Marcus are angry at first, but when he sees the conditions in the tent, he agrees that he was at fault, and asks her if taking care of the wounded is what she wishes to do. She says yes, and he allows her to. Marcus berates her for not taking care of herself and working without eating, saying she has no sense. He feeds her, and she drops off to sleep, exhausted.

The next day, Keir calls a "senel", a meeting of his subordinates. One of his men, Iften, is scornful of her as a weak city-dweller, and believes that taking her as a Warprize will weaken not only Keir, but their people. He is already stirring up bad feeling for Keir in the Warlord's army. The rest of the meeting is about setting up someone to oversee the Kingdom when Keir returns to the Plains, where he and his men live. The next day, Keir and Xylara must return to Xymund's castle, and Marcus finds her a dress to wear, a bright red dress. Xylara squirms inside, for only whores wear that color, but seeing how she is a slave, she wears it. Much of the court is shocked to see her in that color, seeing her already giving into Keir, but Xylara tries to hold her head up, as Keir still hasn't forced himself on her.

One of the nobles, an ill-tempered, unlikeable man, calls Xylara a whore, an insult for which Keir runs him through with a sword. He will not allow anyone to insult Xylara. Everyone is shocked. Xymund most of all, although he isn't happy with Xylara. He has nearly destroyed her room, destroyed everything in her stillroom and burned the notes she made of her medicines and cures. He has called her a traitor to other members of his court, but she cannot concieve of why. Hasn't she done everything he has asked her to?

When she is back at camp, she befriends several of the people in the army, including Atirra, a horsewoman who falls and breaks her leg, and Gils, a cookslave who becomes her student at healing. The Firelanders have no concept of medicine. If someone is badly injured enough so that they can no longer fight, they are given mercy by their comrades. Otherwise, a Priest-healer looks after the wound, saying spells over it. But the Priest-healer with the army was killed, and that is why no one was looking after the wounded in the tent. Xylara tells them she does not know how to cure everything, but she is able to help the men.

This is not the only problem. Men with crossbows are making raids on the army at night, killing and wounding the sentries, then slipping away again. Keir sets men to watching for the killers, and asks Xymund to investigate, as the shafts left behind are Xyerian in make. Xymund promises to look into it, but the attacks continue.

As Xylara helps Atirra one afternoon, she asks her about Plains society. She finds out that a Warprize is dearly hoped for, and is the only one with the power to change the society. Feeling that she is missing something, Xylara asks Atirra about the Warprize. Atirra tells her she is not a slave, but an honored position. That by asking to be a Warprize, she is asking to be courted by the Warlord. The bracelets are not marks of slavery, but those of status. That night, Xylara, who has fallen in love with Keir, gives herself to him completely.

Shortly afterwards, Xylara is attacked by a group of Xyerian men who burst into her healing tent. The leader is the son of the nobleman Keir nearly slew, and he calls Xylara a whore and a traitor, choking her nearly to death. Keir comes to her rescue in a beserk rage, killing the men. He is about to start in on the guards who were supposed to be protecting Xylara, but she manages to talk him down from his rage, and he goes to look after her instead.

Finally, it is found out that Xymund has been behind the attacks all along. Keir goes to the castle to find him, but Xymund goes to Xylara. She is mostly unaware of his evil deeds, and instead takes him to task for allowing her to believe she was Keir's slave, to which Xymund says that her status is the same as a slave to him. He then calls her a traitor for the brooch of rank he found in her room. Keir comes, and is not able to defeat Xymund without killing him. Xylara goes into shock, especially when, since she is now the heir to the kingdom, Keir decides to leave her behind on the Throne and go back to the plains without her. It takes some doing, but she decides to go to him instead, as there is no one she could marry from the surrounding kingdoms, and her people need the trade the firelanders represent to survive.

She walks after Keir in only the shift he gave her, with bare feet, until she encounters his army making its way home. At first, he tries to tell her to go home, but she will not, and threatens to repeat her actions until he allows her to stay. Finally, he relents, and confesses he is glad she has come to stay.

In the second book, Keir's people find that one of the towns they took in Xyeria has barred its gates against them, and the people inside yell at them, throw stones and even fire arrows at them. Iften is enraged that people are rebelling against Keir and urges Keir to attack them, But Xylara determines what is really happening: the village has plague, and she must enter and determine what type so that it can be fought before it can spread to the rest of Xyeria... or worse, Keir's army.

She, Gils her apprentice, and two people assigned by Keir to guard her, a husband and wife team- Epor and Isdra, enter the city. They only find four people alive: an old female healer, the guard from the gate, a young child, and a man in a delirium who sees them as enemies and attacks them. Xylara attempts to save them, but fails, except for the child. It is a plague called the Sweat, but this time its effects are stronger and occur faster, and it is much more deadly. She has Keir send a message to the capitol telling them of the plague and having them warn the other healers of what to look for, and then Epor falls sick, only to die from the plague. And then Xylara herself falls ill...

She tells Isdra to fire the town and to bind her inside, take the baby and flee. Isdra does fire the town, but rescues Xylara and brings her to Keir, who nurses her through the plague with the help of Gils and Isdra. They manage to save her by dunking her into the cold waters of the nearby lake at the height of her fever, bringing it down. Just when she starts to recover, others in the camp begin falling ill. Xylara goes to help them, but without Epor, Isdra decides to join her bonded in death. Xylara, finding this out, stops her, saying she needs Isdra's help with the plague. Isdra is swayed by this reason, and agrees to help.

Later, Keir himself falls ill, but Xylara nurses him back to health. Just when it seems everyone is recovering, Gils falls ill, but with a difference. He starts to convulse, and Keir is forced to give him mercy. Xylara is shocked and enraged, but in the end, even she is forced to admit she would not have been able to save him.

Despite the help of everyone in camp, about 1 in 10 die of the plague, and Iften blames Xylara and her people for it, especially their filth and city-lander ways. He challenges Keir, and not for the first time, saying that so ill-fated an expedition can only be blamed on the man who led it. Xylara has taught Keir Chess to keep his mind occupied as he recovers, and the other warriors begin to learn it, too. There is a mania for chess in the camp, but Iften refuses to learn.

To celebrate the recovery, Keir sets up a celebration of one-on-one fighting matches, and chess matches, to be ended with a life-sized game of chess. Iften challenges Keir again, who manages to defeat him, but he breaks Iften's arm in the process. Xylara, knowing Iften despises her, offers to help him, but he rudely refuses her help, saying only that he will take the help of the priest healers, not her unhealthy city-lander ways. She warns him that without her help, he will lose the use of his arm, but he doesn't listen.

Shortly thereafter, she is surprised in her shower by a man in ratty furs. She dumps a pail of garbage on him and flees, only to find that he is a priest-healer. Keir has a great dislike of priest-healers, and the feeling is only too obviously returned. As they plan to return to the plains, Keir holds a ceremony for the dead, and during the ceremony, Isdra, freed of her obligations at last, goes to join her husband. Xylara weeps for her going, but is already perparing for the ordeal she will find on the plains, being confirmed as a Warprize, and with Keir to be a confirmed Warlord.

These two books were extremely enjoyable. Both cultures were distinct and fleshed-out. Although you had the feeling that asking questions would have cleared up a lot of the problems and misunderstandings a lot earlier on, at least in the first book, I can also see why Xylara, thinking herself a slave, didn't think to ask questions. And the Plains people, aka Firelanders, have their own way of asking and answering. I as a reader, of course, am far less forgiving about Xymund's telling Xylara that she was a slave than she was.

But this was still an excellent series. I felt like I was living in Xylara's world along with her, and seeing out of her eyes. If you are looking for a fantasy romance with no magic but great description and plot, this is one series you will want to pick up.